Adapted from a recent online discussion.
After severe depression, don't assume friends will judge you
Anonymous: I could have been Virginia from yesterday: About 10 years ago, I had dropped away from college friends after a bout of severe depression, went from a promising career to working retail, etc. I felt very embarrassed.
I had quite the "aha" moment when one of these friends passed away and I saw others at the funeral. I explained myself, not in any pronouncement kind of way, and was faced with a big "So what." At the time, it made me feel worse that I had missed out on so much because I was feeling "less than" — but now I think about that "so what" whenever the feelings creep in again. I'm in touch with many of these people today and what I do for a living just doesn't come up.
Carolyn: Well said, thanks.
What to Say Then?: So what do you say when everyone else is talking about spouses/children/weddings/promotions/in-laws/mortgages/etc.? Gather dust? Say the dingo ate your baby?
Carolyn: Yes, because that's funny, but it's also okay to talk about . . . something else. Common ground may be harder to find when people are at different life stages, but unless it's a really boring conversation, there's always a larger context.
People talking mortgages, for example, are likely touching on real estate and the local economy, which renters often know better than owners. People talking in-laws are likely navigating complex relationships, which anyone with classmates, roommates or colleagues can speak to, if from a different angle. And so on.
And if there's no toehold in the conversation, outsiders can always join in by asking questions. Just summon the oomph to try.
What to Say: "What's new?" is an innocuous question, really, but can seem stressful when you have nothing that seems interesting to offer up.
I was feeling that way recently. I work looooong hours in a job that is interesting to me, but deadly to describe to others, and I hang out with my husband when we have a few hours at home. That's it. That's really boring to retell. So I thought "Why isn't there anything new with me?"
I don't have a lot of time, so I put more energy into something I already liked to do: cook. I now bake all our bread, make our pasta, brew our beer — everything, and it's a lot of fun, and gives me LOTS to talk about with people.
Big life events don't happen all the time. People are really looking for ways to connect with you. If you feel like there's nothing to talk about, create something to talk about. The process will make you feel fulfilled regardless.
Carolyn: Ruthlessly sane. Thanks.
Also Anonymous: Mentioning the dingo: Tell me what's going on in your life, please, because you're my friend and I'm interested. It's not a competition. I didn't tell you about my house/in-laws/baby because I want to make you jealous. That's just what's going on in my life. I'm also interested in knowing what you are doing, especially if it's different from what I'm doing.
Carolyn: Depressed people have a hard time believing — even conceiving — that others think this way about them. Thanks for spelling it out.